August 19, 2016

Promoting effective communication

THE 21st Century is known as the age of information and communication technology. In this age, never has there been so much information passed from one person to another since the invention of television when news and information were able to be transmitted both in real time as well as visually and verbally using technology. Along with ICT, due to increased interaction among people to carry out various kinds of transaction, there has also been a marked increase in communication both within the national boundary as well as beyond. Time, place, person, and amount of information are no longer barriers to communication with the birth of the Internet and subsequent developments.  Language differences are also becoming less of a barrier with the progress being made in developing machine translation.  Anybody, at any time, from any place, can now share with others large amounts of information using print, sound and visual media.
With so much information available on the world-wide-web, if a person wants one’s information to be heard, seen, read and more importantly, noted, what has become of vital importance is to ensure that one communicates effectively, as time does not only mean money, it also means making the most efficient use of the scarcest commodity in the world.
Effective communication involves using the following seven techniques among others:
1.    Tell what you want in a comprehensible way. (Use short sentences as far as possible. Do not use technical terms, foreign words or indirectness, unless it is really necessary.)
2.    Tell using as little time as possible. (Time is precious and many people are more interested in what they want to say than what other people are saying.)
3.    Tell what is relevant to your audience. (If it is not relevant, what is said will be like singing classical songs to an audience that can only appreciate pop songs.)
4.    Tell it in an interesting, and persuasive way. (Use appropriate examples and anecdotes.)
5.    Tell what is newsworthy to your audience. (If a person already knows what you are talking about, he/she will not be interested in what you are saying.)
6.    Tell it in a form acceptable to your audience and situation. (Use appropriate level of politeness, indirectness, and formality. For example, if you are conversing with a monk you need to use appropriate terms and style.)
7.    Tell it in a way appropriate to the form of text you are using. (Different texts and medium require different styles, for instance when you are speaking on the cell phone with a friend, you tend to be briefer compared to chatting with him in a tea shop.)
On the other hand, it is also important that one recognizes the intention of what is being communicated and is able to read between the lines, because there may be subtle feelings or reasons behind an utterance due to the following reasons:
1.    Words can sometimes have more than one meaning and one must be able to identify which meaning is being expressed in an utterance.  For example, the word degree in the following two sentences has different meanings: This work needs a high degree of patience. (meaning amount) and What degree did you do at Yangon University? (meaning course)
2.    Out of politeness, people tend to use a lot of indirectness. For instance, in the dialogue between speaker A and speaker B, Speaker B is indirectly refusing speaker B’s invitation probable because he does not want to be impolite: Speaker A: Let’s have dinner together tonight. Speaker B: I have a tutorial tomorrow.
3.    Sometimes, the listener must solve ambiguity by making use of the context of the situation and the sentence. For example, the expression ‘show the door’ in “John, please show Mr. Benet the door,” has two meanings, one a negative one, “make it clear that someone must leave”, and the second, a more neutral meaning “lead or take someone to the door”. If for one reason or another the gentleman happens to be a person the speaker does not wish to see, or does not want to continue speaking to after having an argument with him, then, the expression would have the first meaning, and if the speaker wants his secretary to simply escort Mr. Benet to the door out of courtesy, than it would have the second meaning.
4.    The listener must also be able to assign the function of an utterance in order to gain the correct meaning, and respond accordingly. For example, the sentence “Yesterday was my birthday.” Is used to simply inform a person about the date of her birthday and have the function of informing, or used to complain to the listener for forgetting her birthday and have the function of complaining.
5.    Sometimes, an utterance can have different meanings for different listeners. For instance, if a person calls her secretary and says Please bring me an aspirin as I have a terrible headache.” while talking to a visitor, the sentence has the function of a request for an aspirin, while to the visitor it has meaning of asking him to leave: “I do not want to continue talking to you. I want you to leave.”
6.    As different text types have different organizational structures, it is necessary to be familiar with the way information is organized in a text type to assist the reader/listener to process it quickly. For example, both a letter and a news item may be providing information. The reader can get a gist of the news item by reading the first paragraph.  However, he/she might have to read through the entire letter to find out what information the writer wants to convey.)
Just as verbal language is important for effective communication, so also are the use of appropriate tone, and body language. Tone can denote joy, fear, anger, friendliness, familiarity, impersonality, etc.  Different tones are used with different sets of people such as a member of the family, friends, strangers, superiors, equals, and subordinates. The use of an inappropriate tone will not be acceptable as a person can be seen to be either too polite and insincere, or too rude and aggressive. In addition, every society has meanings attached to certain gestures, and so some of them need to be avoided so as not to appear to be rude or aggressive.  For instance, in Myanmar society, talking with ones arms akimbo signals that a person is in an aggressive mood.  Although in Western society it is acceptable to point something with one’s foot, in Myanmar culture, it is extremely rude, and if done, the person is doing it deliberately to display his/her superiority over the other person. So also in Bruneian culture, it is regarded as being rude to point something with one’s index finger and pointing with the thumb of one’s right hand is the more acceptable form.
Good public relations, whether it is for a government or a private organization, whether in the field of business or management, is very important at all levels, national, regional or local.  Effective communicators are very much in demand in all countries, especially good sales pitch needs to be made.  But they need to be genuinely effective communicators to avoid misunderstanding, distrust, antipathy, disagreement, disruption, etc. Due to increasing interactions people from foreign lands, and because of the intricate nature of language and its frequent use of indirectness, language specialists such as language teachers, translators and interpreters are very much in demand. In order to fulfill this national requirement, more efforts are needed to improve and expand Myanmar and foreign language programmes both by the government and the private sector in the basic education as higher education domains. In brief, effective communication, whether in one’s own language or in a foreign language, results from not just being able to convey fluently what ones want to express and use the appropriate gestures, it must also accomplish one’s aim in saying something, whether to inform, persuade, clarify, inflame, calm, terrify, flatter, or sooth, etc. It is true that people are born with the innate ability to use language but in most cases, they need to be guided in how to become effective communications. Effective communications thus require great efforts from learners as well as a lot of hard work from language teachers.


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